The Official eNewsletter of TODAY! Fitness

vol. 2008 issue 7



Proper Form for Maximum Benefits

How much can you lift?  This is a very common, but really irrelevant question for most people.  Unless you are a powerlifter where the amount of weight that you lift is what drives the competition, what is beneficial to most people is not heavy weight, but that the weight "feels" heavy.  This is the point where you need to check your ego at the door, drop the amount of weight that you have been jerking, arching, and swinging to get up, and get back to the root of the exercise by learning and performing it with perfect form!

You might learn weight training techniques by watching friends or others in the gym. But sometimes what you see isn't safe. Incorrect weight training technique can lead to sprains, strains, fractures and other painful injuries that may hamper your weight training efforts.  You also may not be targeting the muscle group you're intending to work as well if you are cheating and not using proper lifting form. Using too much weight and not getting full reps won't work your muscles as efficiently.  It's not how much weight you lift... you're form is more important than the weight!  When it comes to exercise, you want to work hard AND smart. 

General Form Tips

The following are a list of tips that you should incorporate into your typical workouts to help you focus on proper form.

  • Don't lift more than your muscles can handle with good technique and control.  Have enough self-esteem to drop the amount of weight you are lifting If you're unable to maintain good form
  • Eliminate extraneous body movement and momentum.  "Cheating" as it is often called, is responsible for more injuries than perhaps any other cause.  At the same time, it provides little stimulus for new muscle growth.
  • Always look for ways to maintain or increase tension on the muscles you are training.  In other words, don't let the muscle relax or rest during the set.  The easiest and most common ways to maintain tension is to simply avoid locking out your joints and stay in continuous motion by eliminating the pause at the top and bottom of the motion.
  • Lift slowly and gradually, don't jerk the weights when lifting.  Move the weight in an unhurried, controlled fashion to maintain good control and muscle tension. Taking it slow helps you isolate the muscles you want to work and keeps you from relying on momentum to lift the weight. 
  • You might be tempted to hold your breath while you're lifting weights. Don't. Holding your breath can lead to dangerous increases in blood pressure in addition to increasing the risk of injuries such as a hernia. Exhale when you lift the weight, inhale when you lower it.
  • Prior to performing any lift, pull in your abdominal muscles to stabilize your core.
  • Don't lift with your feet too close together. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart for stability.

Exercise Specific Form Tips

Although there are many exercise specific tips, here are a few of the more common ones that are well worth the review.

  • Avoid straight bar exercises in which the bar travels behind your head.  This includes lat pulldowns behind the neck as well as military presses behind the neck.  Most people's shoulders aren't that flexible so the move can lead to shoulder impingement or worse, a tear in the rotator cuff.  It is recommended to instead use your chest as a target for the down position of these exercises. 
  • A common fault of the squat exercise is when people try to lift too much weight and don't get down to the point where their legs are parallel to the floor. Not doing full reps while squatting could be bad for your knees as you'll put a lot of pressure on them by suddenly stopping half way down with a heavy weight on your back. For proper squatting form you should keep your lower back arched and avoid bending it. You should also try not to let your knees bend forward in front of your toes too much, so make sure to keep your hips and butt back at the bottom of a squat. 
  • Don't lock out on leg presses or any other kind of press including the shoulder and bench press. It's terrible for your joints. (This does not include triceps exercises such as pushdowns or dips).
  • Bending your knees too deeply on leg presses can injure or damage your knees also.  If you want to do this exercise correctly, a good rule of thumb is to bend your knee and hip to 90 degrees as your target. 
  • Don't lift your lower back off the incline bench or flat bench.  When performing a bench press (or most other supine exercies) remember the "5 point contact rule".  Focus on keeping your head, shoulders and upper back, and butt in contact with the bench at all times, and your right and left feet firmly planted on the ground.
  • Don't bounce the bar on your chest while bench pressing.  You can crack a rib, damage you sternum or hurt your pectoral muscles.  In addition, the added momentum that you gain will reduce the benefit that you are trying to get in the first place.
  • Don't swing on barbell curls. A lot of people have heard of the "cheat curl". FYI:  a cheat curl is not a full body jerk!
  • Don't round your back on deadlifts. For proper deadlifting form you'll want to start the movement by driving with the legs and the hips, and let your lower back take care of the rest. If you only use your lower back to deadlift you're shortchanging yourself. In addition, whenever you are lifting weight with a rounded back, you're doing something wrong.
  • When you perform the upright row exercise where you pull your hands (carrying the weight) up to your chin, you actually compress the nerves in your shoulder area, impinging the shoulder.  The upright row is no longer recommended for this reason.  A safer alternative is to do front or lateral shoulder raises, or bent over rows.
  • Don't do the "neck crunch." The crunch involves a contraction of your entire torso, not just your neck.  Don't lock your hands behind your head and pull your head forward either.  For proper crunch form, I typically like to put my fingers on my head lightly behind my ears for good form without the temptation to crank on your neck.
  • Avoid using a weight belt unless necessary.  They should only be used when you're getting 85% to 90% of your one-repetition maximum. Most people are not working at that level.  Unless you have a back injury or another medical reason to use the belt, the level at which the average person works doesn't require a weight belt.  When the belt is on, you're not allowing your normal core muscles to get strengthened.  You'll never learn how to use your natural belt, your core, the abs, obliques, and spinal erectors.
  • You don't typically think of cardio machines when discussing proper form.  However, exercising on the treadmill in a hunched-over position can keep you from breathing deeply, and the improper alignment of your spine can make the workout more jarring to your shoulders and elbows.  Use a natural gait, and don't hold the handrails because it breaks the natural biomechanics of the body. Reading is also discouraged while using the cardio machines.  When you're reading you're not concentrating and getting a good workout. You're not monitoring your progress. Exercise has to engage your head!

Using the proper form while exercising can make the difference between getting the maximum benefit from the exercises that you are performing, and getting injured.  When you're trying to make the most of limited exercise time, the last thing you want to do is waste effort on exercises that don't pay off.  Remember, the more you concentrate on proper weight training technique, the more you'll get from your weight training program.

Elite Bodyweight Exercise of the Month!

Ball Exchange Crunch


Looks easy, right?  Throwing around a big soft rubber ball that doesn't really weigh a whole lot.  So what if I were to bring up the "V-up" exercise that many of you may know about?  Does that sound a little tougher?  Well, the ball exchange crunch is basically the same as a V-up, although it requires you to focus on passing the ball from your hands to your feet and back again.  This focus helps you to follow the exercise through the full range of motion and maintain good form without cheating.  If you don't crunch your body fully, you won't be able to pass the ball back and forth.  Trust me, you won't look at that big soft rubber ball the same way again!


Target:  abdominals (rectus abdominus)

Count:  4 count

Description:  Start by lying on your back with your feet extended and your arms extended while holding the Stability Ball.  While keeping your arms and legs straight throughout the exercise, simultaneously lift your legs and arms so that you meet in the middle (your shoulders should come off the ground).  Pass the ball from your hands to your feet and lower your arms and legs back to the ground (don't let the ball bounce).  Repeat the motion again, passing the ball back to your hands, and returning to the starting position.  That's one repetition.

Have Some Balls

A common question that people ask me on a regular basis is regarding what type of exercise equipment that they should buy for home use.  When starting out building a home gym, most people are typically look for equipment that is versatile and can be used for several exercises... without costing a fortune.

Swiss ball, resistance ball, exercise ball, fitness ball, physio ball, balance ball, stability ball... there are a multitude of names for this handy, portable, and inexpensive exercise tool.  In addition, there are probably hundreds of exercises that can be performed on a it!  The stability ball has become a very popular tool within the clinical rehab setting and their versatility allows their use with any population.  Their effectiveness in developing balance and core strength has also earned them a spot in the world of athletic and functional conditioning.

The history of the stability ball originates back to the early 1960's.  It was made by an Italian toy maker, Aquilino Cosani, and sold primarily in Europe as the Gymnastik.  In 1981 Cosani started a new company, Gymnic.  These two companies are still in Italy and are the major suppliers of stability balls throughout the world.  The stability ball was introduced to clinical application in the 1960's and has slowly made its way to the fitness and athletic arena with increased popularity in the last decade.

A properly sized stability ball will allow you to sit on it with you knees and hip at 90 degrees and your thighs parallel to the floor. However, there are size recommendations based upon the height of the user.

User Height
30 cm (11.8")
Under 4'6"
45 cm (17.7")
4'6" - 5'0"
55 cm (21.6")
5'1" - 5'7"
65 cm (25.5")
5'8" - 6'1"
75 cm (29.5")
6'2" - 6'7"
85 cm (33.5")
6'7" and up

Although there are guidelines for proper sizing of stability balls, using different size balls will allow you more flexibility and variation with your Stability Ball training.

Stability balls can be used in place of a bench for many exercises, they are an excellent tool to supplement bodyweight exercises, they serve as an unstable surface for balance and functional training, and much more.


There are plenty of great DVDs, books, internet links, podcasts and youtube videos that will demonstrate countless stability ball exercises that you could use to supplement resistance training or flexibility workouts.  Keep your goals in mind when looking for exercises as one size does not fit all.  If you are interested in more information, check out Ridgeline Fitness or just search for it on youtube.  There are a wide variety of challenging stability ball exercises with excellent video quality and they also have DVDs available.  Great stuff!

Whether you have a full home gym or you are just looking to get a quick workout without a lot of equipment, there is really no reason why everyone shouldn't have a stability ball.  In addition to using them during my workouts, I actually replaced my office chair with one!  It's a great way to work your core throughout the day!

It's Go Time!

July 4th is a few days away so that makes this Independence Month!  Independence is partially defined as "freedom from control and influence".  I can think of a few things that you can do to take control of your life, at least from a health and fitness standpoint.  It's very easy to let your surroundings, schedule, and relationships drive your decisions and habits.  It might be a challenge, but if it is important to you, you have the power to make decisions that are best for you and that support your goals!

There are obviously good and bad influences that have an affect on us all.  The good ones we'll keep, so let's just focus on the bad ones for now.  If you do not have the discipline to face these bad influences and still make the right decisions, then your best bet would be to avoid the temptation or situation.

Sure, avoiding the bad influence is not as easy as it sounds.  This can mean shopping differently, staying away from some of your favorite restaurants, and even distancing yourself from some "friends" if they have habits or attitudes that are a conflict of interest.  July is not the only month to have freedom from these influences... in order to be truly successful you will need to continue to make conscious choices on a regular basis.  What are the bad influences in your life? 

For prior issues of this newsletter go to  

Good Luck!

Pete Mazzeo, CPT

"Go BIG or Go Home"

youtube video of the month --> Climbing Ninjas
This is the best parkour (free running) video that I have seen on youtube.  Not the greatest quality but it is still unbelievable! | Personal Training | News | Tips & Tools | Fitness Stuff




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